• By Swami Sivananda
  • March 2002

Diet and Health

Food and drink

(Their Assimilation and Function)

The Chhandogya Upanishad describes the process of food and drink:

Food that is eaten, gets divided into three parts. That which is its coarsest part becomes farces; that which is medium, the flesh; that which is finest, the mind.

Water, which is drunk, gets divided into three parts. That which is its coarsest part becomes urine; that which is medium, the blood; that which is finest, the breath.

Fire that is eaten, gets divided into three parts. That which is its coarsest part becomes bone; that which is medium, the marrow; that which is finest, the voice.

The mind consists of food; the breath consists of water; the voice consists of heat.

It is also said that hunger is absorption of food that is eaten by water; thirst is drying up of water that is drunk through heat; death is the extinction of the heat within the Highest Divinity. Food is like fuel to the fire or heat in the body. When food is not eaten the mind loses its strength and the fire in the body is extinguished. When water is not drunk, Prana, which is the essence of water, passes out of the body.

That the mind is influenced by the food that is eaten is mentioned in another place in the Chhandogya Upanishad: “In purity of food there is purity of mind; in purity of mind there is established memory; in established memory there results the release from all the knots of the heart.” (VII. 26). After a fast for fifteen days, Svetaketu lost his memory and could not recite the Vedas. But when, afterwards, he ate food, he regained his memory and recited the Vedas. “If one does not eat for ten days, even though he might live, he becomes a non-seer, a non-hearer, a non-thinker, a non-doer, a non-understander. But on eating food, he becomes a seer, a hearer, a thinker, doer, and an understander. Adore food!” (Chh. Up. VII.). This shows to what extent the mind is influenced by the food, which is eaten. A person thinks through the mental nature, which he consists of, and this nature is fed by food. Hence, the food that is eaten should always be Sattvic, for "verily, this person consists of the essence of food” (Taitt. Up. II. 1).

Eating Is a Sacrifice

Food should not be eaten with passion or avidity. Food is called a medicine for life, a remedy for the pain of physical life. It is the conscious divine being within, the real Eater of food that is offered the oblation of food. It is the Agnihotra, sacrifice offered to the Atman in the Prana, in the form of Rayi or food. The Maitrayani Upanishad says that both the mind and the food to be eaten should be purified before eating food. The eater of the food should be conscious that the Universal Atman is the real eater of food and therefore, the food should be offered to this Atman with certain Mantras which are meant to convey the meaning of this sacrifice, or internal Dravya-Yajna. The Vaisvanara or Virat is the real giver of life to all and He is the real eater of all foods. This Vaisvanara Agni is the Fire that digests food. “This fire which is within and which digests the food that is eaten is Vaisvanara Agni (the universal living fire).” (Brih. Up. V.). It is not the inert element fire but the divine power of Virat in the form of universal living fire that digests food. This fire is called Vaisvanara. Ultimately it is the Atman that is responsible for eating food as well as digesting and assimilating food. Hence, before eating, the Pranas, the mind and the Atman are worshipped and offered the food, which is consecrated. The Maitrayani Upanishad says that one should meditate on the Atman before and after eating food. The meaning is that one should not eat food at the cost of the Atman, i.e., one should not forget the Atman in the process of eating. “He who eats with these rules does not again take birth in the material body.” (Maitr. Up. VI. 9).

“Food is the form of the all-sustaining Vishnu. Energy is the essence of food. Mind is the essence of energy. Knowledge is the essence of mind. Bliss is the essence of knowledge.” (Maitr. Up. VI. 13). The Upanishads exalt the process of eating food to divine worship, because the food and the eater of food are forms of Divinity. Therefore it is said, "“ne should not insult food. That is the rule. One should not despise food. That is the rule.” (Taitt. Up. III. 7. 8).

Even external sacrifice in which food is offered as an oblation becomes the source of the life of all beings. “The offering properly given in sacrifice, rises up to the sun. Through the sun rain is produced. From rain food is caused. By food all creatures live.” (Maitr. Up. VI. 37).

The Arunika Upanishad says that “food should be eaten as a medicine” (1). “From food, verity, all creatures are produced. By food, in fact, they live. Into it also they finally enter. Therefore, it (food) is called a medicine” (Taitt. Up. II.) (2). Food is eaten only to maintain life and not for the sake of enjoyment. Hence, one should eat only the minimum quantity of food as a medicine for life and not to satisfy the passion. “Food is called “Anna” because it is eaten (Adyate) by all beings and it eats (Atti) all things in the form of Prana, the eater of food” (Taitt. Up. III. 7).


Digestion is a series of changes whereby foods are rendered soluble and capable of assimilation. Food is digested, then absorbed and assimilated.

The food is chewed in the mouth. The process of digestion is begun in the mouth through mastication. This is performed by the teeth, assisted by the tongue and helped by a fluid secreted by the salivary glands and known as saliva. Mastication breaks the food into small pieces and mixes it with saliva. The platin in the saliva acts on the starch and changes it into maltose. The saliva is alkaline.

The food is swallowed. It passes into the stomach through the gullet or esophagus by means of the dilation and contraction of its walls. Here it comes in contract with the gastric juice. The pepsin, a ferment or enzyme in the gastric juice converts the proteins into peptones. The rennin in the gastric juice coagulates the caseinogens in milk. The fats in the food are melted by the heat of the stomach.

Now the food passes into the small intestines or bowels. Here it comes in contact with the bile secreted by the liver, the pancreatic juice secreted by the pancreas and the intestinal juice secreted by the glands of the intestine. These digestive juices are all alkaline. The bile emulsifies the fat.

The pancreatic juice contains three ferments:
1. Trypsin: This acts on peptones and changes them into amino acids.
2. Amylopsin: This continues the work of the ptyalin and converts starch into maltose.
3. Steapsin: This emulsifies the fast and converts them into fatty acids and glycerin.

The intestinal fluid changes the disaccharides into monosaccharides.

All the foods are thus rendered soluble and easily assimilable. The villi, the small processes in the membrane of the small intestines absorb the chyle, digested essence of food.

The unabsorbed food passes into the large intestine. A further small amount of absorption takes place. The waste products pass on and are eliminated as excretion or faucal matter.

Protective Foods

These are foods, which supply both vitamins and mineral matter and so protect the body from certain diseases.

The protective foods are milk, butter, cream, cheese, green vegetables eaten raw, and yellow vegetables and fruits.

One pint of milk, one orange or tomato, one ounce of butter and raw salad will provide enough protective foods for a person per day.


Cereals form the staple food in nearly every human diet. In India rice, wheat or millets form the bulk of the dietary. Cereals are not sources of carbohydrates. They are moderate sources of vitamins. A predominantly cereal diet should have addition of pluses. Cereals contain no vitamin C and no carotene.

Whole unrefined cereals are good sources of vitamin B complex. Whereas refined cereals such as white flour and highly milled rice have lost much of their vitamin content. This is because the vitamins are concentrated in the outer layers of the whole grains, which are removed by machine milling. The only cereal, which does not suffer appreciably when machine milled, is parboiled rice. Parboiled rice is superior to other rices. Beriberi is closely associated with the habit of eating highly milled and polished rice. Dental caries is due to consumption of refined carbohydrate foods.


The Allopaths think that high protein foods like meat, etc., are very useful for the body. They say, “Such foods are very nutritious.” They say to the patients, “Take abundant meat. You will become strong and healthy.” This is a sad mistake. When pulses and meat are taken in abundance they produce in the system large quantities of morbid, poisonous substances. The kidneys are overtaxed. They are not able to function properly. Inflammation of the kidneys results (Bright’s disease). The patient passes much albumin in the urine.

Meat is an unnatural food. It taxes the kidneys. It produces various diseases. It generates worms such as tapeworms, etc., in the bowels. It dullens the intellect and excites the passion. It is full of bad smell. People eat it under the influence of alcohol in an unconscious state. Pitiable is the lot of meat-eaters.

The protein of meat can be replaced qualitatively by that of milk and cheese.

If proteins are not digested and assimilated, they ferment and putrefy and generate gases and other poisonous foreign matter. A low protein diet is much better than a high protein diet. The minimum protein required is 2 ounces per day.

An exclusive rice diet cannot supply the protein requirement of food. So you will have to partly replace rice by some such material (wheat or dhal) as will complement the need for complete protein.

The soya bean is exceptionally rich in protein. It is the equivalent of milk protein in biological value. Coconut is a low protein food.


Pulses comprise peas, beans, dhals and grams. They have a high content of protein, not however of very high biological value. They are very good for supplementing the cereal of a vegetarian diet. They are good sources of the vitamin B complex. Bengal gram (dhal chana) and to a lesser extent green gram (dhal moong) contain appreciable amounts of ascorbic acid in the dry state.

Germination of Pulses

The ascorbic content of all pulses can be increased by germination. Pulses become useful, anti-scorbutic by the process of germination or sprouting. Germination causes an increase in certain components of the vitamin B complex. Sprouted pulses have been used successfully for combating scurvy for more than a century. The method is as follows.

A sufficient quantity of whole dhal or gram, say, 2 ounces per man is soaked water for 12 to 24 hours. Then pour water; remove the grams and spread them on a damp blanket or gunny bag in the thin layer and cover with another damp blanket or gunny bag. Keep the blankets damp by sprinkling with water. In few hours small shoots will appear. When these are ½ to 1 inch long, the process is complete. Vitamin C content is at a maximum after 30 hours of germination.


Green, leafy vegetables are generally rich sources of carotene, ascorbic acid, calcium and iron, and are relatively rich in Riboflavin.

Root and other vegetables are of variable nutritive value. Most of them contain moderate amounts of ascorbic acid. The carrot is very rich in carotene.

Gourd vegetables are generally of poor nutritive value, but the bitter gourd is relatively rich in ascorbic acid. The yellow pumpkin is a good source of carotene.

Potato has high carbohydrate content. It is a good fuel food. It contains moderate quantities of ascorbic acid. It is an important source of starch in the diet.

Tomato has a good carotene and ascorbic content. It contains iron also.

Lettuce, watercress, celery, spinach and cabbage belong to the group of succulent vegetables. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots belong to the group of feculent vegetables.

Lettuce, spinach, cabbage, watercress, celery, Brussels sprouts and endive contain the largest quantity of organic mineral salts. Next to these come tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, asparagus, cauliflower and horse radish. Watermelons are rich in the blood purifying organic salts.

A vegetables diet, partly raw and partly cooked is the best kind of diet.

In order to take the fullest advantage of the vegetables, take some quantity in a raw state, because vegetables in their natural state only contain vitamin C.

Lettuce, celery, cabbage and cress can be eaten without cooking. Carrots can be grated and eaten raw.

Vegetables supply roughage also, the required bulk to the food, which is necessary for the proper functioning of the organs of evacuation. Lack of vegetables produces constipation.

In the treatment of chronic diseases Naturopaths prescribe a strict vegetable diet. A vegetable diet eliminates from the body all morbid materials, which are accumulated in the system from a very long time.

Vegetables are boiled in a large quantity of water. The water, which contains all the mineral salts, is simply thrown away. Then people eat the useless, worthless, non-substantial, dry stuff, which even a dog will not dare to smell. Nutritious conjee of rice is thrown away. Foodstuffs are refined and demineralised. This process of refining removes the essential mineral elements from your food. Such dematerialized and devitalized foods are taken to satisfy the whim and palate of the individual. The result is they develop beriberi and various other diseases. These are all criminally unwise and foolish feeding habits.

Root vegetables and tubers should never be peeled, cut up and soaked in water for some time before cooking, because the soluble constituents dissolve into the water. They must be first washed; then cut up and cooked.

Vegetable Salads

Salads are beneficial, healthy and wholesome. Cut carrots, tomatoes and cucumber into small pieces. Add some coconut scraping and coriander leaves. Flavor it which a little lemon juice. Add a little salt.


When you cannot get fruits, chopped cabbage, grated carrots, tomatoes and radish will make a palatable and highly nutritious salad. Dried fruits will serve your purpose, also.


Make a preparation of raw vegetables such as lettuce, endive, chicory, celery, water-cress, radishes, tomatoes, chervil, cut up and seasoned with salt and lime juice.


Take finely chopped raw cabbage, finely chopped raw carrots; finely cut walnut or hazel nut or almond. Add salt to taste. Serve with salad dressing. This makes a fine preparation.


Here is another kind of salad. Take grated raw carrot, grated apples, tomatoes in small pieces. Sharpen the flavor with lemon juice. This is a purifying and nutritious dish, to clear the complexion and promote appetite.


Lettuce Salad: Lettuce 2 oz., tomatoes 2 oz., cucumber 1 oz. Cut into small pieces. Flavor with lemon juice. Add salt to taste and a little pepper.


Cabbage Salad: Finely cut raw cabbage, watercress, and radishes into tiny slices. Flavor with lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Masticate thoroughly the salad. Do not swallow the fibrous residue.

Fruits and vegetable salads can be taken with milk also. Do not add limejuice to this kind of salads.

Mineral Salts

All natural foods contain mineral salts. Wrong methods of preparation and cooking often cause their loss.

Mineral salts build bones and teeth. They form the red oxygen, carrying pigment of the blood. They enter into the structure of every body cell. They form a part of the digestive fluids. They keep the blood alkaline. They help the blood to coagulate.

The basic value and necessity for a liberal supply of organic mineral salts in the daily food is overlooked by the Allopaths. What a sad and terrible mistake indeed!

Organic mineral salts as iron, sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, silicon, etc., are contained in abundance in the juicy fruits and the leafy, juicy vegetables. Therefore take juicy fruits and leafy, juicy vegetables.

Coconut contains more organic salts and fat. It must be taken in small quantity. It comes near to the chemical composition of human milk than any other food in existence.

Plums, grapes, cherries, apricots, pears, peaches and mangoes, contain a large amount of mineral salts. They also contain large quantities of fuel sugars in easily assimilable form.

The dried peas and beans, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, spinach, raisin, green peas, lettuce, tomato and cabbage contain a good quantity of iron.

Nuts, cereals, dried fruits, peas and beans contain copper. The iron of foods can only be fully utilized by the body when copper is provided.

Iodine is a constituent of the hormone, which is secreted by the thyroid gland, situated in front of the neck. It is needed in very small amount, but if it is lacking entirely in the diet, the thyroid glands does not function properly. Goitre is the result.

Seaweed is the best source of iodine. Traces of iodine are found in cereals, leafy vegetables and milk.

Oats are extremely nutritious. Barley is rich in mineral matter. It is very Sattvic. Barley bread is whole meal and beneficial.

Almonds, bran, endive, figs, dry hazel-nuts, dandelion greens, lentils, molasses, mustard green, olives, spinach, turnip tops, soya been, Amaranth, fenugreek leaves, garden cress, gingerly seeds, tamarind, are rich in both calcium and iron.


Milk is as nearly a complete food as exists in nature. Milk should be fresh. It can be taken raw if it is drawn from a healthy animal. Milk can be taken with mango fruit with great advantage. All-important nutrients are well represented in milk, except iron, nicotinic acid and ascorbic acid.

Children should have sufficient quantity of milk and butter in their diet. Milk contains the very important calcium salts, which are necessary for bone building. Butter contains vitamin D, which is necessary for the assimilation of calcium.

Butter and ghee are composed of milk fat and have high vitamin A content. Vitamin A of ghee is largely destroyed when it is used as a frying medium.

Curd is a very good article of diet. Whey or buttermilk (lassi) is a cooling and nutritious drink. Milk is generally the outstanding source in a diet of calcium and Riboflavin. Pasteurized milk is useless.


This is a very valuable food. It is a natural laxative. It is one of the best forms of sugar available. It supplies lot of energy. It is a substitute for glucose.

Take honey and dates in place of cane sugar.

Sugar separately is not necessary for health. Sugar in the fruits is quite sufficient to keep you healthy and supply energy. Give up refined, white sugar, but take gud (jaggery) or black sugar.

Dietetic Don’ts

1. Do not take food in a hurry. Masticate each morsel as thoroughly as possible. The enzyme called ptyalin has to change starch into sugar in your mouth. 
2. Do not eat much protein. An excess of protein taxes the liver and the kidneys and causes serious diseases. Aged persons are less able to digest excess of protein.
3. Do not drink water during meals. Drink water once after meals. Too much water drunk frequently will dilute and weaken the gastric juice and produce dyspepsia or indigestion.Do not take pungent and spiced articles and too much salt and chutney. You will not have much thirst. Drink a small quantity of water after meals.
4.  Do not use-refined food. Include in your diet coarse food such as oatmeal, whole meal bread, and homemade rusks. This is good for the teeth and jaws to have exercise. Rough food stimulates the elimination of waste matter. Rusks strengthen the teeth of children.
5. Do not insist on elaborate cooking. Simplify your meals. Serve as much food as possible raw.
6.  Do not taken meat. It is an unnatural Tamasic food. Take instead whole meal bread. It is very easily digested and assimilated. It is a natural laxative. It contains more nourishment than meat. Take it with butter and honey. Add fruits and vegetables. This is a complete and well-balanced meal.
7.  Do not take tinned foods, as they have become deteriorated by the cooking process. They contain poisonous chemicals and preservatives. Food poisoning takes place.
8. Do not use vinegar. It is a product of fermentation. It retards digestion.
9. Do not add Soda in cooking vegetables as it destroys vitamin B and C.
10. Do not take strong spices and condiments. They irritate the mucus membrane of the intestines. You can use a little Jeera or cumin seed.
11. Do not use Vanaspati or vegetable oil. It is absolutely useless. It is a poison. It generates various diseases. Give up vanaspati entirely. Shun it ruthlessly.
12. Do not take coffee, tea, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, cannabis indica, opium or stimulants of any kind.

Different Qualities of Food Articles
Sattvic Foodstuffs

Cow’s milk, butter, ghee, cream, cheese, curd prepared from cow’s milk.

Cereals: ragi, maize, barley, wheat, unpolished rice, red rice, oatmeal, bread, sago, arrowroot. Pulses of all kinds except black gram, dried peas.

Fruits: apples, bananas, mangoes, oranges, pears, pine apples, guavas, wood apples, papaya, pomegranates, berries of all kinds, sapotas, peaches, tomatoes, melons, dates, grapes, raisins, figs, lemon.

Vegetables: spinach, all leafy vegetables, cabbages, cauliflower, carrots, all kinds of gourds, white pumpkin, potatoes, sweet potato, sugar, sugar-cane juice, honey.

Miscellaneous: almonds, groundnuts, coconut, tender coconut water, dried ginger, myrobalan, cheru (a mixture of boiled rice, ghee, sugar and milk).

Rajasic Foodstuffs

Meat, fish, eggs, tea, coffee, cocoa, ovaltine; chillies, tamarind, chutney, pickles, asafetida, mustard, spices; highly seasoned dishes, foods that are dry and excessively hot, bitter, sour, saline, and pungent; oil, white sugar (commercial sugar), radish, brinjals, ladies’ finger, cucumber, drumstick; articles of wind-producing food, fried things pastry preparations and sesame seeds.

Tamasic Foodstuffs

Beet, pork; all intoxicants such as wine, liquors, all drugs, ganja, bhang, charas, tobacco, all stimulants, onions, garlic, stale, rotten, unclean foodstuffs; and half-cooked and twice-cooked articles.

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